Don’t Let Training Go in One Ear and Out the Other

The key to successful training, whatever the topic, is to provide the “why” behind the advice given during the training.

Often, and reasonably, training focuses on enhancing specific job skills. A sales organization concentrates on introducing and reviewing the specific steps to get to a sale. A client services firm offers strategies for improving customer relationships. Yet while all training provides information, the key to successful training is to have the participants buy into the processes being taught and to put them into practice.

I first understood this concept when writing “Essential Manners for Men.” I quickly realized that simply giving men a bunch of rules was a formula for failure and a yawn of a book. How could I get buy-in? The answer involved three steps:

1. Demonstrate the problem or issue.

2. Define the solution.

3. Explain the reason behind the solution.

What made the book and the advice therein a successful national bestseller and, consequently drives the way I teach business etiquette, is Step 3, the explanation. Essentially, people are creatures of habit. I can offer etiquette advice for hours on end, but if I don’t give people a good reason for changing the way they do something, they aren’t going to buy into it.

For instance, if I could give only one piece of advice, it would be: “Be on time.” I can tell people this repeatedly, but simply stating it isn’t going to change their behavior and get them to be on time.

However, when I explain that inevitably the first words out of your mouth when you arrive late will be, “I’m sorry,” you begin to understand the benefit of being on time. I drive the point home by asking, “Why would you want to start an interaction with another person by apologizing? Why start an interaction in recovery mode rather than on a positive note with the focus squarely on the business at hand?”

Or consider the effect of writing a note to someone as opposed to e-mailing a note. If all I said was, “It’s better to handwrite and mail the note,” chances are no one would bother to take my advice. Simply telling people it’s better to handwrite a note isn’t going to change many people’s minds. But then I go on to describe the reception of the handwritten versus e-mailed note. The handwritten note is opened, read, and placed on the recipient’s desk to be seen repeatedly for hours or days, while the e-mailed note is just one of many received, opened, and then deleted. “Which would you prefer,” I ask training participants, “to be remembered or to be deleted?”

The key to successful training, whatever the topic, is to provide the “why” behind the advice given during the training. Doing so ups the odds that participants will change their habits and adopt the advice rather than just have it go in one ear and out the other.

Peter Post is a director of The Emily Post Institute (, greatgrandson of Emily Post, and co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business.”